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What does the Bible say about disobedient children?

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From the young toddler who just learned the word “no” to the older child acting out in willful defiance, all parents face the challenge of disobedient children. And, at the heart of the matter, disobedience is not just a child issue. The Bible shows us we all battle the desire to rule ourselves and do as we please because we all are born into sin and rebellion (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3; Romans 3:10; 7:17–21). This battle against self-rule can wage an all-out war on our children if their disobedience is left unchecked; a war that will affect their future relationships with teachers, employers, friends, spouses, aging parents, and even their Heavenly Father. Yet, when we turn to the Bible, we find great hope in the fact that God gives the tools to train and discipline disobedient children and even promises blessing to those who learn and grow in obedience.

The command to honor and obey parents permeates Scripture, beginning in Exodus when God gives the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12) all the way through the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:3; Deuteronomy 5:16; Proverbs 1:8; 6:20–21; 23:22) and into the New. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul reaffirm the fifth commandment (Matthew 15:4; 19:19; Ephesians 6:1–3; Colossians 3:20) and the promise that comes with it. Children are encouraged that their obedience will bring blessing and long life (Exodus 20:12; Jeremiah 35:17–19; Ephesians 6:3; Colossians 3:20), while disobedient children who dishonor their parents are admonished that their behavior will bring punishment and shame (Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 21:18; 27:16; Proverbs 10:1; 15:5; 20:20; 30:17; Matthew 15:4). Widespread disobedience to parents will characterize society in the end times (2 Timothy 3:2).

The nation of Israel, whom God calls His children (Exodus 4:22), provides an example for disobedient children. Repeatedly, God commands Israel to obey Him, promising great blessing for obedience and dire consequences for disobedience. In Joshua’s day, Israel obeyed God and was blessed with victory over their enemies (Joshua 11:23). Later, as the whole book of Judges shows, Israel’s disobedience brought trouble.

The Bible teaches the necessity of correcting disobedient children. Discipline is a part of life for everyone, and those who rebel against the authority of parents are to be chastised. Proverbs 19:18 says, “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; / do not be a willing party to their death.” In this verse, discipline of a child is presented as a matter of life and death. Disobedience, left unchecked, will lead a child to eventual ruin. Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, / but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” Here, love and careful discipline go hand in hand. The idea is refuted that a “loving” parent will never discipline a child. To turn a blind eye to rebellion is to hate the rebellious child.

Ephesians 6 is a key passage. Verse 1 speaks to children: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” That is, obedience to one’s parents is the God-given duty of every child. As long as the parents’ commands do not violate God’s Word, the child should obey. Verse 4 speaks to fathers: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” It is the duty of fathers to train their children in a godly way and to instruct them in the Lord’s Word. In so doing parents set their children up for the best chance for a long and prosperous life in this world (verse 3)—and treasures in heaven, too (Matthew 6:20; Galatians 6:8–9; Ephesians 1:3–4).

Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the LORD are right;
the righteous walk in them,
but the rebellious stumble in them.
Hosea 14:9

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022